Matt Wallner Making The Most Of Summer In The Cape Cod League
FALMOUTH, Mass. -- After his short stint earlier this summer ended with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Southern Mississippi outfielder Matt Wallner wasn’t ready to start his offseason as he had a year ago. Instead, he reported to Falmouth in the Cape Cod League.
Wallner had been set up to play for Falmouth before he was invited back to Team USA. Some Team USA players will start their summer on the Cape, but, for the most part, when a player is called up to the CNT, he doesn’t also play on the Cape.
Falmouth manager Jeff Trundy was resigned to not getting to coach Wallner, the 2017 Freshman of the Year. But when Wallner didn’t make Team USA’s 24-man roster for its series against Japan and Cuba, Southern Miss assistant coach Chad Caillet told Trundy that Wallner still wanted to come to Falmouth.
“I said, ‘Sounds fine to me,’” Trundy said. “Obviously, it’s fun to watch, but more than anything he’s fun to be around and he’s fit right in. It’s been great.”
Wallner played his first game for Falmouth on July 8 , joining the Commodores about halfway through the season. He said it took him a few days to get into a rhythm, but he’s found it lately for the Commodores. In Thursday’s 8-2 victory against Orleans, Wallner went 3-for-4 and homered twice to improve his batting line to .308/.378/.641 with four home runs in 11 games. He also has a seven-game hitting streak.
Both of Wallner’s home runs Thursday came against righthander Kenyon Yovan (Oregon), a fellow Team USA alumnus and one of the better pitchers in the league. Wallner went 3-for-3 against Yovan and showcased his impressive power.
“It’s fun to face a guy like Yovan,” Wallner said. “He’s had a really good two years at Oregon, but I just try to stick to my game plan and do what I do best.”
Wallner does a lot of things very well on the baseball field. He has two-way ability and this spring saved six games for Southern Miss but doesn’t expect to throw more than an inning or two this summer. As a hitter, he stands out for his big lefthanded power and overall hitting ability. He’s hit .343/.468/.637 with 35 home runs, 93 walks and 103 strikeouts over the last two years for the Golden Eagles.
Wallner, listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, has the look of a prototypical right fielder.
“He has so many tools and he makes things look so easy,” Trundy said. “That to me is the sign of a great athlete and a great player. He can run, he can throw, he’s got power. Obviously, everybody can get better every single day. He knows that, and he works at that.”
Falmouth had another prototypical right fielder in its lineup the last two years in former Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach, who this year was drafted in the first round by the Twins. The two outfielders are different kinds of hitters, but sitting at Falmouth’s Guy Fuller Field, it is difficult not to compare the two.
Trundy has a much longer track record with Larnach, who was a fan favorite in Falmouth, but already he can draw some comparisons. Wallner, Trundy said, is a better runner and thrower than Larnach. However, Larnach did a better job of using the whole field to hit. Both have plus raw power, but Wallner is tapping into his in a way Larnach didn’t before this spring. Wallner’s two homers Thursday night match Larnach’s total in 51 career games with Falmouth.
“There are some similarities there,” Trundy said. “But they are different types of kids. But they’re both very good and they’re both good kids.”
Larnach this year was the 20th overall pick and time will tell if Wallner is able to match that status. He’s looking forward to the opportunity this summer to keep working on his game in the premier summer league. After his Team USA stint ended last year, he went home to work out. This year, he wanted to get more at bats and experience using wood bats.
Wallner is especially focused on improving his ability to use the whole field to hit. He said that approach starts with how he takes batting practice.
“In BP I’m not worried about hitting homers all the time, just spraying to all fields and stick to the other side,” he said. “If I can hit the ball the other way in warmups, I can pull the ball in games and I don’t have to worry about that, but vice versa is not necessarily true. If I’m pulling everything in BP, it’s hard to hit to all fields.”
The prospect of Wallner increasingly using the whole field to hit is likely a scary one for Conference USA pitchers. He already gets a steady diet of offspeed pitches and he’ll next year again be the focal point of Southern Miss’ lineup as the Golden Eagles go for their third straight conference title.
Wallner isn’t worried about that, however. He is at his best at the plate when he keeps things simple, an approach that he has found to be well-suited to the Cape. His decision to extend his season and come to Falmouth is helping him to work on his game, but he’s also very much enjoying his time on the Cape.
“I love it,” Wallner said. “it’s been a lot of fun. It’s exceeded my expectations. I didn’t know playing baseball like this could be this simple and this fun.”